PhD Studentship: Performance Feedback Learning in Bilinguals

United Kingdom
Nov 07, 2017
Jan 24, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

Recently there has been interest in the effects of bilingualism on neuro-cognitive functioning. A prominent finding is that bilingualism has beneficial effects on brain development, and, the development and efficiency of executive skills (Adesope et al., 2010). Executive skills are critical for goal-directed behaviours, forming the basis of abilities such as, holding and manipulating information in mind (working memory); switching between mental sets given task demands (cognitive flexibility); inhibiting distracting information (inhibition). Executive skills are implicated in learning in school-aged pupils (St. Clair-Thompson & Gathercole, 2006), yet it remains unclear whether the bilingual advantage in cognition generalises to classroom learning.

An indicator of successful learning is the ability to process performance feedback from the environment and apply this information to optimise behaviour (Struss et al., 1995). For example, in spelling children learn specific rules (adding ed to form the past tense: walk-walked). However, there are exceptions (sleep-slept), and children must learn these irregularities, why and when they occur, and adjust their behaviour accordingly - each step requires the child to process feedback so that they know what to do/not do in the future. This ability is a fundamental skill that is valuable during the school-age years enabling the acquisition of an effective model of identifying and discriminating between valuable and ineffectual behaviours in accordance with the desired goal/context.

Feedback learning involves the simultaneous monitoring of feedback from the environment, updating a task-appropriate representation and behavioural-control. These skills correspond to the processes implicated in executive control and may represent the set of processes that are perquisite for optimal learning. Similarly, frontal brain regions are implicated in executive control and heart rate. Evidence has implicated frontal regions in feedback learning (Jennings & Van der Molen, 2002) and that changes in heart rate are associated with feedback processing (Crone et al., 2003).

Given the bilingual advantage in executive control there is reason to speculate that bilinguals may utilise feedback more efficiently than monolinguals. However, there is limited understanding of how bilinguals implicitly utilise feedback to learn the rules that govern classroom-based skills – predominantly, research tests paradigms where bilinguals are explicitly told the rules to follow. Taking an individual differences approach, the aim of the PhD is to address this limitation by examining the role of executive skills in performance feedback learning in UK bilingual children aged 8-10. The project will combine insights from physiological and behavioural indices to examine the processes underlying feedback learning. The inclusion of a physiological measure will provide insight into bilingual feedback processes that cannot be obtained by exclusively relying on behavioural measures. A subsidiary issue is to obtain teacher perceptions of bilingual children’s learning abilities, and to ascertain whether these perceptions correlate with behavioural and physiological findings. The PhD student will recruit and test bilinguals and monolinguals; develop experimental tasks; record heart rate to augment performance measures of feedback processing; administer questionnaires to teachers.

This PhD will improve understanding of how bilingualism impacts cognition and learning, thereby providing foundational evidence for developing effective strategies to support bilinguals.


Funding Notes

The Faculty Scholarships for Medicine, Dentistry & Health cover fees and stipend at Home/EU level. Overseas students may apply but will need to fund the fee differential between Home and Overseas rate from another source.


Eligibility Requirements

Candidates must have a minimum of a 2:1 (i.e., upper second class) undergraduate degree, preferable in Psychology or Neuroscience

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